The legitimacy factor in Pakistan | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, November 29, 2007 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, November 29, 2007

Straight Line

The legitimacy factor in Pakistan

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TO many observers of the socio-political scene of Pakistan, the quest for legitimacy by the ruling establishment will appear to be unavailing. Such despondency acquires special meaning and significance in the background of the tumultuous developments of the recent past, and the unfolding political scenario there. It would be relevant to recall that the ideological framework of Pakistan is closely related to the phenomenon of partition of India.
Pakistan faced several challenges in the early years after independence of 1947, which were rooted in economic, political, cultural and security based issues. The new state needed to establish a territorially based mechanism of rule beyond the idea of a mere homeland for Indian Muslims. Such a mechanism needed to be widely accepted as morally and legally legitimate to establish effective writ of the state.
The migratory elite of India dominated the post-partition political leadership of Pakistan. While that elite led the Pakistan movement in British India, it suddenly found itself handicapped in operationalising the constitutional sources of legitimacy in terms of a mass mandate. The chances of its electoral victory in its country of migration, where it accounted for only 3 percent of the population even two decades after partition, were very slim.
It would be interesting to recall that, in circumstances as above, the new Pakistan army, as an organised outfit, occupied a vantage position. This army was based on about one third of the total strength of the armed units, which once served the whole of British India. As such, it was disproportionately powerful in the power structure of Pakistan, which was only one fifth of India in population and even smaller in territory.
The Pakistan army went on looking for a source of legitimacy, which would ideally bypass the mass mandate as a determining variable in shaping the destiny of the nation. The army, along with migrant elite that initially dominated the political leadership and bureaucracy, championed various causes of national unity, economic development and state security. However, problems of nation-building persisted as the society experienced long periods of unrepresentative rule. Pakistan's first constitution saw light in 1956, nearly ten years after independence.
From the early days of independent existence, the ruling set-up of Pakistan found Islamic ideology as the way out of the perceived challenges to its legitimacy. The new state had inherited a ruling elite as a result of exigencies of the transfer of power. With no electoral constituency in the new country, the post-independence generation of leaders established an administrative state, initially under civilians and then under the military.
In the foregoing situation, popular sources of legitimacy based on a mass mandate started losing their relevance. As a corollary, divine sources of legitimacy were articulated and cultivated by the ruling elite.
The dilemma of finding legitimacy of the ruling establishment has to be traced to the history of the creation of Pakistan. It is a well-known fact the Muslim League was not an organised political party, but a movement of people of all shades and colours. Its leadership mainly came from the landed gentry.
It was ironical that in the western provinces of undivided India the Muslim League had almost no roots. Jagirdars, feudal lords, tribal chiefs and pirs initially opposed the idea of Pakistan, but joined Mr. Jinnah when Pakistan became a reality. He had no choice but to accept them if Muslim League had to remain in power.
Sensing the weakness of the Muslim League leaders, British-trained officer corps seized the opportunity, and people like Chaudhry Mohammad Ali, Gulam Mohammad, Iskander Mirza, Ayub Khan, Mushtaq Gurmani, Khan Qurban Ali Khan ganged up and gradually assumed all powers. Ch. Muhammad Ali became secretary general and formed some sort of a supra-cabinet, where all important decisions were taken before they were placed before the cabinet.
They also became self-styled guardians of the "ideological" frontiers of Pakistan. It may be recalled that, with a few noble exceptions, Muslim officers in the armed forces and bureaucracy did not play any role in the freedom movement. They were basically mercenaries and careerists working for the colonial masters. Unfortunately, even after the creation of Pakistan, they did not develop a nationalistic outlook.
Initially there was a nexus between the bureaucracy, military and the feudal politicians. Handpicked industrialists and businessmen also felt that their interests would be better served by joining the club. If one looks at the composition of this oligarchy, one would find that it included almost all the vested interests. The class divide was complete. On one side were those who were in a position to exploit the resources of the new country to their heart's desire, and on the other were the teeming millions who were powerless, and had to fend for themselves.
The modus operandi of the oligarchy was the same as that of their colonial masters. The cornerstone of this strategy was "Divide and Rule." In every province they created factions who were fighting among themselves. The top bureaucrats named above, who were wily, cunning and unscrupulous operators, knew how to control feudal lords and weak political leaders.
As a matter of fact, they simply continued the British policy of carrot and stick. They welcomed the politicians who were ready to play ball with them, used them, and dumped them, when no more required, or when they did not toe the line. The counter-elite who raised their voices in the provinces were accommodated whenever necessary.
The above oligarchy successfully thwarted the process of constitution making because they feared that general elections would dent their power. Generally politicians are blamed for any delay, but if one analyses the situation carefully, one discovers that it was the coterie of powerful individuals like Ghulam Mohammad and Iskander Mirza which was putting obstacles in the way. They were, of course, helped and abetted by Ayub Khan and his officer corps.
Soon after the creation of Pakistan, the ruling elite declared India as "enemy no. 1," and their obsession with Kashmir started. They knew that it would bleed Pakistan white, but perhaps this was necessary to convert Pakistan into a national security state.
It may be debated whether Pakistan was supposed to be an Islamic or secular state, but there is no doubt that it was declared to be an egalitarian state, with its federating units assured of being autonomous and independent, almost with sovereign status. But as soon as Pakistan came into being, all promises of provincial autonomy, land reforms and alleviation of poverty were forgotten, while the bureaucrats received accelerated promotions, and the army also became restive and threatened to overthrow the civilian government if the British officers were not repatriated quickly.
Valuable urban property left by Sikhs and Hindus became available for allotment to their near and dear ones, while vast chunks of land were grabbed by landlords because there was no policy to allocate it to the landless.
Pakistan's new, self-styled Chief Executive, General Pervez Musharraf, was avowedly modernist, liberal and moderate. Still, the new government faced the old challenge of finding collaborators from within the political community in order to dissipate the pressure from the mainstream parties for the transfer of power to civilians. Two decades ago, General Zia-ul-Haque had picked anti-Bhutto elements from amongst the political leadership elected in 1985, prior to lifting martial law in order to form a government.
The ruling oligarchy in Pakistan is a small part of the total population. They have all the powers and resources, and are very well entrenched, but the discerning observer can see that they are gradually losing control. Leaving aside the middle classes, which are about 20 percent of the population, there are 75 percent people who are surviving not because of the state, but in spite of the state. They are yearning for change. They are bitter and angry about the way things are happening, and are waiting for a chance to show their strength. They need social organisation and leadership.
For the first time in the history of Pakistan, people from the Punjab are openly raising their voices against the feudal-military oligarchic domination in politics. If this trend becomes all-pervasive, it will change the nature of Pakistan politics for all time to come. There are very strong anti-American feelings across the board.
Those leaders who want to remain in power only with American support will find it increasingly difficult to survive. The civil society, though still weak and disorganised, is slowly realising the importance of its role in making the government accountable. This trend is likely to increase, and more people will follow the lead given by the black coats. Pakistan seems to be reaching out to the future, bracing for change.

Muhammad Nurul Huda is a columnist of The Daily Star.

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